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Archive for the ‘Spiritual Gifts’ Category

What if the Bible isn’t enough?  What if God desires us to have more of a relationship with Him than a hermeneutical understanding of morality and doctrine?  And isn’t that what the Bible teaches: walk in the Spirit, walk by faith, the Spirit will guide us into all truth, despise not prophesying?
If you’re anything like me, first you rejected these speculations. Then you couldn’t stop thinking about them, and started reading the Bible in a new light, considering the possibilities.  And now that you’re seriously tempted to believe in continuing revelation, you’re scared.  I’m not very good at explaining this fear.  I think about how I have relied on the Bible so much.  How do I appeal to fellow believers about their belief and practice except on a universally accepted standard?  How do I witness to nonbelievers except by demonstrating the inerrancy (internal consistency and outward truth) of the Bible?  Can I claim that internal consistency proves anything when that was a test for which books made it into the Canon or not?  Supposing God does speak to me, how will I know it’s Him? What if He speaks to someone else?  Why should I submit to what He speaks through them?  How will believers be on the same page, with each one (or at least each congregation) receiving his own revelation?
Maybe I’m scared because I never dreamed I would be here, believing these things.  And where else will it lead?  Maybe if I need to hear from God today, or in the future, I have to trust that He will speak; I can’t just sit comfortably holding in my hand all He was ever going to say.  I have to believe in a God who is able to communicate not just to me, but to people around me.  I have to believe in a God whose mercy is so great that even when I’m sinfully not listening, He’ll cushion me from making mistakes too terrible.  But I need His mercy every time, because whenever I’m not listening to Him, I’m doing my own thing.  So maybe I don’t like this belief because it puts me out of control.  I can’t force revelation from God by being smarter or studying longer or even by asking the right teacher.
On the other hand, I like it.  The God of the universe is speaking to real live people today.  He has designed a community for His people that is interdependent.  We get to be a part of His ministry both to those who have believed and to those who have not.  God has not left us alone to make up our own decisions.
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Did God speak outside of Scripture?  Does He still?  Can we speak His (new) words?

 

Speaking is a big focus of the New Testament, though I think we have overlooked it.  Many of the spiritual gifts have to do with verbal communication.  Are those gifts supernatural (spiritual) or not?  Can speaking gifts come from God, but not the words?  What about this verse from Peter?  “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God…”  Have you ever thought about Paul’s admonition to take up the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”?  Did you know that Paul follows with a request that his friends pray that “utterance may be given unto [him]”?

 

Maybe you’re like me, fascinated by how casually the Old Testament refers to God speaking to men.  God spoke to Cain.  God told Noah.  God visited Abraham.  He interrogated Job.  Was it like in the movies, where light streamed from heaven and men heard a voice?  How often did men have experiences like Abraham, who entertained God and a couple of angels in his tent?  Was the voice audible or not?  Did God come in dreams like He did for Joseph, instructing him to go ahead with his marriage to Mary?  Why doesn’t the Bible go into more detail about these fantastic communications?  Why do the authors seem to think we know what they mean when they simply say, “God spoke”?  Did they expect us to have similar experiences?  Does God still speak?

 

Did you know that the Bible never says anything about the end of the writing of Scripture?  Did you know there is no biblical instruction for determining a Canon?

 

Catholics ascribe authority to the words of the Pope (when he is speaking as Pope).  That way they have one universal authority to which all members of the church must submit.  Protestants rejected the Pope because they observed the fruit of his edicts, in the sixteenth century and before, that they were worldly.  Perhaps they also claim that the New Testament does not teach apostolic succession or the spiritual authority of popes.

 

But Protestants claim similar things about the Bible.  We use it as the universal and exclusive authority over the Church.  Now, the Bible does mention authority.  It says that men will live by the words of God, and I am fairly certain that the writings of the Bible fit into that category.  All Scripture, Paul wrote, is profitable for doctrine and rebuke and instruction in righteousness.  I’m willing to at least suggest that he had the Old Testament in mind.

 

The problem is that the Bible itself also teaches about the Church, and who has authority over it.  What it says is that Jesus Christ is the head of the Church.  He is its authority, to which every member must submit.

 

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Once upon a time I went through and underlined every time “word of God” was used in the book of Acts.  The phrase occurred quite often in passages about evangelism, which of course is a theme of Acts. At the time I was accumulating evidence that if we wanted to be effective at converting the lost, we needed to use actual Scripture instead of our emotional phrases and cute metaphors.   A passage in 2 Timothy inspired me: “And that from Childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures of God, which are able to make you wise for salvation…”

 

Having been raised in the evangelical church, I didn’t at that time ask an obvious question.  When the apostles, Paul, the deacons, and all those famous evangelists spoke “the word of God,” to what did that refer?  Did they stand up in front of masses of Greeks and compile quotations from Exodus, Psalms, and Habakkuk to call men to faith in Jesus?  Obviously they did not yet have the New Testament written.  We do have some examples of the apostles quoting the Old Testament to people while preaching.  And there’s the story of Philip, who found the Ethiopian Eunuch reading Isaiah, so he explained how what we know as chapter 53 was a prophecy fulfilled by Jesus, and led him to salvation from there.

 

I’m skeptical that “the word of God” could have been referring to the Old Testament.  There are words to refer to those writings: Scripture, Prophets, Law, Moses, Isaiah, “as it is written.”  But Acts didn’t use those to describe the apostles’ preaching.

 

Ok, Jesus when He was being tempted quoted to the Devil that man lives by “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”  Jesus Himself was using Scripture, so we usually interpret this as an exemplary double-punch.  I don’t need bread; I need exactly what I’m using now: Scripture.  Except, well, what did the original author mean, the one whom Jesus was quoting?

 

If you go to the Psalms, all over the place you find references to the “word of the LORD.”  David says he delights in “Your word.” Does he mean only that he delights in the Law of Moses?  Why do we think of something different when we read, “The word of the LORD came to…” the prophets?

 

When Jesus reaffirmed that man lives by “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” was He including the words God would speak during His earthly ministry?  Did He mean also those words that He heard from the Father and spoke obediently?  What about the New Testament, which we are today taught is God-breathed just like the Old Testament?  Are we to live by any other “words from God?”  I mean, if the apostles were preaching the “word of God” in Acts, and that didn’t just refer to what had been previously expressed in the Scripture or by Jesus, why don’t we have those preached words recorded?  Do we need them?  John supposes that if everything Jesus said and did were recorded there wouldn’t be books enough to contain them; why don’t we need all the words that Jesus spoke?

 

To God be all glory.

 

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Church is not about a pastor.  He obviously plays a part.  God never intended for one man to make or break a church.  There are safeguards established by the apostles in the New Testament to prevent that.  In a plurality of elders, for example, they can hold each other accountable.  If one of them is unwilling to listen to the concerns of a congregant, perhaps another will.  This is not to encourage division in the leadership, for the point of multiple shepherds is that no one can do everything all the time.  In the weakness of one, another diversely weak leader can be strong.

The burden we place on pastors is not fair.  Their weaknesses and failings are elevated to a critical point.  A cord of three strands is not easily broken – not only because it is harder to break all three at once, but because all three bear and divide the tension, creating a strength in the individual threads that is harder to break.

When I imagine church, I want the big vision, the ideal of what could and should describe the gathering of Christ’s bride.  A pastor sees the path, turns us in the direction, opens the gate leading us there, the practical next step to which I am so blind.

So many times I have seen pastors and ministry leaders get tired and discouraged.  I recognize the signs, having experienced them myself.  The tension is growing and the responsibilities keep piling up, all without any sign of effectiveness.  Or, we don’t know what signs to seek, or where to turn our eyes.

If my reader has read the Bible only, he will not find an altar call there – not for salvation.  The Bible usually records God’s saving work as meeting people wherever they are, in their chariot, on their knees in a jail, by a riverside doing laundry.  Jesus said, “Come unto Me,” without the help of pulpit or altar or stage.  In our church, custom has it at the end of each sermon to invite any heretofore unrepentant sinners to approach the front, to counsel with the pastors, and if they are willing, to pray receiving God’s free forgiveness.  The frequency of responses is used, even subconsciously, to measure the effectiveness of a sermon, ministry, or leader.

God certainly can save people in and through an altar call.  God can save humans wherever they are, remember.  How desperately the Church needs revival!  How many sit in the rows of chairs in our multi-purpose sanctuary having heard the words about sin and death and resurrection and faith their whole lives, but are drowning in the need to be good, in doubt about the existence of God, in despair over the extent of their rebellion?  Those would not answer an altar call.  They don’t need an altar call, or the words repeated.  They need God’s work in their lives, God’s Word proclaimed to their minds, and God’s instruments, His people, lovingly infiltrating the nitty gritty.  I need that, crave that.

If it is true that we are sometimes called to be weak, all the more reason to have companions in life and in church work.  Prophets are called to be strong.  Ezekiel, whose spiritual fate was much like Jeremiah’s, is named “strengthened by God.”  Paul continually emphasized God’s design for the church as a community of strengths – implying also a community of weaknesses.

Perhaps God allows discouraging circumstances to create a cooperative attitude in congregations.  Leaders in the church are not alone.  They are not called to “singleness” either in ministry or in marital status (is it not one of the requirements for a pastor that he be the husband of one wife?).  Therefore they should be experiencing the bonding lifestyle of serving humbly together in ministry, bearing one another’s burdens and being edified by each other.  May it be so.

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I have some serious concerns about the evangelical Christian Church in America. A year ago I led a Bible study. And it is a symptom of the problems with evangelicalism that I must clarify: that means we took passages of the Bible and studied them. We figured out what the words meant, how the passages were connected with other parts of Scripture, and how to apply them. The topic was spiritual gifts. One of the primary passages on spiritual gifts in the Bible is in 1 Corinthians. Typically a theologian would point you to select verses in chapter 12. However, spiritual gifts are the topic throughout 12, 13, and 14. This information fits because, in context, we saw that spiritual gifts are (this is so obvious) part of Church structure and purpose. Our group ended up discussing and discovering a lot about how the Church was intended to “run.”

from Whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” – Ephesians 4:16

Ephesians 4, also a defining passage for the Church, is another chapter describing spiritual gifts. There are also passages in Romans and 1 Peter. In none of these do we see church buildings. The four-point sermon is not described, nor the “invitation.” Come to think of it, a weekly offering wasn’t part of the instructions. There is no gift for “treasury,” though there is one for “giving.”

To some extent, I am still trying to figure out what the Bible teaches about the design for the Church. What did Paul tell Timothy the Church should look like? How should the assemblies go? Who should assemble; when; where; how often? Is it like a network of small groups that interact and overlap? How do elders fit in? What does an elder do? How many elders did God plan for churches? Do they need to be formally ordained? Does a teacher have to be an elder? Does an elder have to teach? If they do, is it every week?

*Deep breath* I have a lot of questions. And I have some ideas I’m exploring. Some might ask how relevant my search is to real life. Occasionally God reminds me He is more important than a completely worked-out theology. He’ll teach me what I need to know. Mostly I need to know I should trust Him.

So I read up on these things. And I try to have an application-oriented study. But I’m not pragmatic. Truth is more important to me than success. I won’t take a group that “does it right” without believing the right thing. I’d rather not be part of a church that is high on creeds and low on follow-through. For one thing, that is my tendency, and I need influences to counter my laziness.

I’m not alone in my dissatisfaction with the Church. A lot of people my age leave, and I can’t entirely blame them. For one thing, my friends and I want challenged. We want examples. We need interaction across generations that is generally unavailable to us at traditional churches. Some who leave their childhood churches gather with others craving spiritual experiences though they were raised outside of church. An overall term for these gatherings is the “emergent church.”

This church and its leaders tend to have embraced a unique philosophy/theology. It is unitarian, communal, experiential: meaning respectively that there could be many roads to salvation and a relationship with God, evangelism and the Christian life should be more about serving the poor and building real there-for-you relationships, and worship must be a multi-sensory encounter.

One of the most frequent things I hear is an emphasis, almost a demand, for “alternative worship.” There is also “contemplative prayer”. The idea that conversion is a process can be found. In a book I am currently reading, a missionary is encouraging Muslim converts to keep the Koran, keep the the mosques, and be “Messianic Muslims.”

Here’s the thing. Most of these emergent believers and former evangelicals (and some others: family-integrated church members, some house churches, other conservative “fundamentalist” movements) are identifying real problems in the Church. The difference is the source of their solution.

I am searching for a back-to-the-Bible approach such as advocated by the New Testament Restoration Foundation. The other options would be slight reform (as explained in the Purpose Driven Church and other such books) or theological abdication for what works. These alternatives are man-centered, offering either that which appeals and entertains men, or that which men think will work, borrowing “truth” from “wherever it can be found,” including pagan religions, popular psychology, New Age spirituality, Hollywood, and ancient mysticism.

Back to the topic of spiritual gifts, one oft-overlooked and even supressed gift is that of discernment. “Discerning of spirits,” can mean telling whether a spirit (message or soul) is from God or not. John MacArthur has compiled an entire book on the subject for contemporary issues, entitled Fool’s Gold. There are websites like Let Us Reason, Apprising Ministries, and the Christian Research Net. I believe this is one of my gifts as well as a topic vital to the Church.

So I feel obligated to warn you about reliance on The Message paraphrase of the Bible, Brennan Manning’s writings, Rick Warren’s writings, anything Emergent Church or “Christian mysticism.” The argument that one must have read a book to denounce it, or have met a person to know that they are false teachers is invalid. The spiritual gift of discernment comes from God, and is primarily a testing of spirits against the pure, absolutely true Word of God. For specifics of why these people, books, movements, and ideas are unbiblical, please consult the links above. I have personally had exposure to each of these, but not immersion. However, the links provided do go into detail, with quotes and point-by-point refutations.

To summarize: the Church has problems. The solution to these problems can be found in the Bible, and the cause in how we have sold out to our culture and human philosophies rather than believing the instructions God gave. Some people who recognize these same problems and are very insightful in how they are related to each other and to statistics coming out about the Church have resorted to unbiblical “solutions,” which will cause more harm than good. Christians must be on their guard against these philosophies and practices. This is done by being solidly grounded in your walk with God (including knowledge of the Bible), and testing every movement against it.

Colossians 2:6-8, “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”

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When I was 20, I started asking questions about the way we “do” church.  Not content to sit back with unanswered questions, I went to work looking for the truth.  I found that not many people I knew had considered questions like these before, so I took to the Internet, and to Scripture.  What I found unsettled and inspired me, but life must go on, and for a while the concepts I’d encountered were set aside.

The spring of my 20th year I taught a Bible study on spiritual gifts that changed the way I looked at Church. I knew the picture the Bible had of the Church was different from the various congregations with which I was familiar, but I had no idea the impact until I studied what the Bible says about spiritual gifts.  The passages are primarily Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 11-14, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4.

My quest reinvigorated by a more complete picture of God’s design for the Church, I was excited to be able to attend a version of Vision Forum’s Uniting Church and Family conference at our Colorado Home Educators Conference.  The conference encouraged me, and increased my confidence in certain truths about the way God made men, women, parents, children, elders, and Christians.

Then I went home.  And I hit a wall.  The reality I saw and in which I had to function did not allow for the comprehensive ecclesiology that I had come to believe.  Yet I believed that God wanted me in this reality, that He had called me to it, and had a purpose for my presence there.

To a girl who lives for answers, not having them was a humbling experience.  I refused to think for several weeks.  In realizing how small and inadequate I am, I got to see more than ever before how big and great God is.  Gradually and unintentionally returning from my paralyzation to my search, I soon encountered a website called New Testament Restoration Foundation. There for the first time I found people who had actually studied the Bible to see what it said about Church, were trying to live by that model, and had invested time into explaining what they had learned in articles.

A friend recommended The Shaping of Things to Come, about which I was and remain highly skeptical, but which addressed a few biblical points, especially on Church leadership, in ways that will affect images in my mind the rest of my life.

God worked through these books, articles, conferences, questions, and most of all through study of His Word to teach me what you will find on this website.

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